Kiwanis Club, Hardyston kids make bears for needy

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  • A little boy completes his bear.

  • A first-grader writes a special message to a child in need.

  • Two young men complete the finishing touches.

  • Founder and Executive Director Susan Lucarelli helps two young boys.

  • PHOTOS BY VERA OLINSKI Children have fun as Karen Dunn helps them.

HAMBURG — The Kiwanis Club of Greater Hamburg partnered with Hugs Across America on Feb. 13 to make teddy bears for children in need throughout Sussex County.

During the Kiwanis “Make-A-Bear/Take-A-Bear” Hardyston Elementary after school workshop, around 60 Kindergarten – through – 4th grade students made 122 bears.

The founder and Executive Director Susan Lucarelli introduced Hugs Across America to the many children in row after row of tables. She explained how the teddy bears go all over the world – on the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship – the Concord, “to military bases for our soldiers,” to police departments, and family courts to judges. She added, “You are really being a helper. So let’s get going, and have some fun.”

With that, many volunteers passed out bags of stuffing for the children to fill their bears.

One little boy diligently worked with his bear and said, “I’m trying to get this in his arm.”

Other children wrote special messages on cards and tied them on the bears’ necks with ribbon.

Lucarelli later explained how Hugs Across America began on 911, with the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center Towers. At that time she taught in the Churchill School, located near the towers. Her school was on lock-down, Lucarelli said, with her students who had parents in the towers that day.

During lockdown, one little boy came up to her and said, “All I know is, I need a hug!”

She gave him a hug and happened to have three teddy bears in her classroom, which each child wanted. Lucarelli said she promised if they were able to share that day, she would make sure they all received a bear.

With the help of friends from the Community Reformed Church of Manhasset, they received about 150,000 bears from all over the country and distributed over 60,000 to New York area schools.

Lucarelli also took about 15,000 bears to St. Paul’s Chapel — directly across from the World Trade Center site — for the people involved in “Rescue and Recovery.” She said, “Those guys, who were digging in the pile, wanted those bears as badly as the kids. They would walk into St. Paul’s and grab a bear before they grabbed water. And then they would lie down on the pew or put their head on it. They just needed some comfort – those very brave men and women.”

From that tragedy, Hugs Across America became a non-for-profit charity, and she said they have since distributed over 750,000 bears and have over 200 chapters all over the country.

She added, “A lot of bears. A lot of crisis. All the shootings, floods, hurricanes, fires, local police departments, local fire departments, child abuse.”

People ask her she continued, “Why do you think this is important? It’s just such a little thing.”

She responded, “Maybe it’s one little gesture of hope and comfort in a very dark world, at a very dark time. In a child’s eyes, that’s all we need. It matters in their hearts. I can’t cure cancer. I can do this.”

Lucarelli said the parents paid $20 for each child, so they could give a bear and keep a bear. She added, “Which is a wonderful contribution, and it is very much appreciated,” for their totally volunteer organization. No one is paid except the accountant.

Furthermore, Lucarelli said all their bears have to be new, because of kids with auto-immune and allergy issues. She said they were always delighted to receive donations and the bears need to be 8 to 14 inches and cuddly.

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“It’s so easy to do, and kids understand it," she said. "They want to help as much as adults do. And it’s a good thing for kids to know they can help. I think it is important for our culture to promote. It’s good for us all. Yes, these kids wanted a bear, but they also wanted to give one. And that’s important.”

Kiwanis Charter Member Karen Dunn said, “The kids had fun; and it’s going to help a lot of other kids.”

Hardyston Board of Education member Donna Carey brought her daughters and friends to help.

She said Lucarelli also serves on the Hardyston Board of Education with her.

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